Bryozoans in the English Chalk

Dr Paul D Taylor (UK) We are very fortunate in Britain to host one of the most remarkable deposits in the entire geological record, the Chalk. The Late Cretaceous Chalk (with a capital ‘C’) is an extremely pure limestone, famous for the White Cliffs of Dover and responsible for the landscape of rolling hills and dry valleys, forming the ‘downs’ and ‘wolds’ that stretch through England from Devon in the southwest, to Yorkshire in the northeast. The economic importance of the Chalk to the early human inhabitants of Britain was enormous because the flints contained within it could be fashioned into axe heads and hard cutting tools. Why is the Chalk so special geologically? It is a rare example of a pelagic sediment – an open ocean sediment – that was deposited over the continental shelf. This occurred at a time when global sea-level was high and the supply of terrigenous clastic sediment into the sea was minimal. The Chalk is an oceanic ooze composed mainly of the disaggregated plates – coccoliths – of coccolithophores, planktonic microalgae with exquisitely engineered skeletons of calcite. Unfathomable numbers of coccolithophores sank to the seabed over a period of some 35 million years to produce the thick accumulation of Chalk that today extends over northern Europe and into western Asia. The Chalk is a favourite hunting ground for fossil collectors, yielding beautifully preserved specimens, especially of echinoids. But closer inspection of the Chalk shows that the dominant macrofossils are often bryozoans. These colony-forming invertebrates … Read More

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Siri Scientific Press: A UK-based publisher specialising in palaeontology

David Penny (UK) I have written this article as a summary of how I established myself in the fossil publishing business because it might be of interest to a general readership. First, a little background about myself is in order. I have had a life-long interest in natural history, especially entomology and arachnology. After completing a BSc in Zoology (1994) I gained a PhD in fossils preserved in amber (1999). I did a one-and-a-half-year stint in a curatorial role at a university museum, followed by four and a half years of funded post-doctoral research. Following a short period of unemployment, I was offered a short-term post-doc in the USA. However, prior to taking up this position, I realised that there was much more to life than worrying about journal impact factors and where my next grant might come from. I also found some of the politics of academia particularly disagreeable and so decided to ‘give up’ science, although this was easier said than done. I disposed of all my worldly possessions, apart from (strangely enough) my amber books, research papers and my laptop, then moved to West Africa, where I found myself with a lot of free time. I kept myself busy wandering around the forests, photographing animals (mainly spiders and insects) and plants, in addition to recording field observations and collecting ecological data (I found it difficult not to do science). I also wrote a book on the topic I had been researching for more than a decade: Dominican … Read More

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Discovering dinosaurs in Britain: The significance of the British dinosaur record

Dean R Lomax (UK) Palaeontology and Britain In its simplest form, palaeontology is the study of prehistoric life, through examination of fossils. Palaeontology is, however, not just dinosaurs. Dinosaurs constitute a miniscule portion of what palaeontology is. After all, a myriad of different, and often down-right bizarre, organisms lived long before the dinosaurs and ended up as fossils under their feet. Regardless, the imagination and wonderment that dinosaurs create are why they are considered a symbol for palaeontology – they are a gateway into this most incredible of sciences. The geology and palaeontology in Britain is incredibly diverse. Rocks of almost every geological period are exposed and have been studied for hundreds of years. This provided a platform for geology and palaeontology to flourish and evolve. Some rather notable individuals include the geologist, William Smith – the ‘Father of Geology’. In 1815, Smith created the very first geological map of England, Wales and part of Scotland, a ground-breaking achievement. Incredible fossil discoveries found along the beach at Lyme Regis, by the greatest fossil hunter ever, Mary Anning, paved the way for the first scientific descriptions of large, extinct reptiles – the ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The Rev William Buckland provided the very first scientific description of a dinosaur – this would change the world. Fig. 1. The author pictured with dinosaur footprints at Hanover Point, Brook, Isle of Wight (2014). Our fascination and intrigue in studying and examining the rocks and fossils within has unlocked an ancient, alien world. If you … Read More

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Hans Sloane’s fossil collection at the Natural History Museum, London

Dr Consuelo Sendino (UK) Sir Hans Sloane, the Founder of the British Museum, accumulated a large number of fossilised remains of animals and plants throughout his life. His collection, including curiosities from all around the known world, was acquired by the British Government in 1753 as part of Sloane’s bequest to the nation. It formed the core of the fossil collection of the Department of Natural History in the British Museum, and is now conserved in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum in London. Fig. 1. The statue of Sir Hans Sloane at Chelsea Physic Garden, London. This was unveiled on 30 April 2014 by a descendant of Sloane, Earl Cadogan. Hans Sloane (16 April 1660 – 11 January 1753) Hans Sloane was born on 16 April 1660 at 49 Frederick Street in Killyleagh, County Down in Ireland, although he was of Scottish ancestry. From a young age, Sloane showed an inclination for the study of natural history and medicine, collecting specimens from nearby Strangford Lough and as far afield as the Copeland Islands. He began studying medicine in 1679 in London, and finished his training in Paris and Montpellier in France, receiving his doctor of medicine degree at the University of Orange in France, on 28 July 1683. During this time, he was a frequent visitor to the Chelsea Physic Garden, established in 1673 by the Company of Apothecaries, as botany was considered to be fundamental to the medical curriculum. On his return to London, … Read More

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Book review: A History of Life in 100 Fossils, by Paul D Taylor and Aaron O’Dea

I wouldn’t say I know Paul Taylor, but I did once go on a fieldtrip with him, organised by the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London, more years ago than I care to remember. It was to the Coralline Crag of Suffolk, which was chock full of bryozoans – Paul’s favourite niche fossil. And very interesting it was too – as was Paul. Therefore, I am not surprised how fascinating this book turns out to be.